Grasscut, Unearth

Stevie Chick

By Stevie Chick

on 07.16.12 in Reviews

With their first album, 2010′s 1 Inch/½ Mile, Grasscut blurred the boundaries between real and imaginary, interior and exterior. Their amalgam of ambient noise, found sound, electronic music and pop songcraft stirred listener flights of fancy but remained purposefully rooted to a specific location: The album came packaged with a map of deserted Sussex hamlet Balsdean, along with details of a path listeners should follow, soundtracked by the music contained within.

Ghosts and memories conjured by aching, whimsical folktronica

Location is still important to songwriter Andrew Williams on their second album, Unearth, though it boasts no cartographic bonus material. Its 10 songs, Williams attests, are inspired by specific spots in Britain — the noir-ish pulse of “A Mysterious Disappearance,” for instance, relates to the Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, where Agatha Christie hid out during her infamous 1926 “disappearance”. But Unearth’s vision is never parochial or small-minded; Williams’s songs are universal, less about locale than the memories, stories and emotions that inhabit them. You might never visit the old estate essayed on “Stone Lions,” but the ghosts that haunt the song, the elegiac sense of time passing, still resonate; similarly, Williams doesn’t reveal where the Richardson Road of the album’s closing track can be found, but the song’s melancholic memories of “suburban pleasures” that remain forever out of reach remain truly affecting.

The song’s exquisite ache is heightened by harmonies from Robert Wyatt, and the album shares his gift sad-eyed whimsy. Williams has grown as a songwriter in the time since 1 Inch/½ Mile, and while Unearth recalls the similarly dreamy confections of labelmate Daedelus, Four Tet and even the Postal Service’s most contemplative moments, Williams’s own voice is clearer this time round, and never derivative.

A composer for film and television by day, Williams’s touch with the various elements that compose Unearth is expert, analogue instruments and digital orchestrations working together in symphonic simpatico. On We Fold Ourselves, he duets with 1950s contralto Kathleen Ferrier, her voice conjured 60 years after her death from scratchy 78rpm shellac; the effect — like much of this album — is magical.